Jaahnvi Shastri with children from a slum school in New Delhi in front of a cherry blossom tree she painted at the school. Image Credit: Supplied

DUBAI: A 17-year-old Dubai girl has launched an unusual project called the Cherry Blossom Initiative under which she has taken it upon herself to infuse colour into the grey interiors of UAE’s labour camps and India’s slum schools by drawing on what the iconic Japanese tree stands for.

Jaahnvi Shastri, a Year 12 student at a Dubai school, said, “Art is my passion, and I paint a cherry blossom tree and theme the décor of the classrooms around it, due to the strong symbolism behind the Japanese culture icon. Cherry blossom blooms for a short period of time – about two weeks a year - serving as a visual representation of how transitory our lives are. I recreate this imagery to stand as a symbol of motivation, courage and ephemerality. The aim is to encourage students to make the most of their time by seizing their days and to work hard, in order to achieve the true essence of what life has to offer.”

Shastri said her last project was at the Danube Welfare Centre in JAFZA, which offers daily classes, ranging from verbal skills to ICT, to the company’s labourers.

“The moment I heard about what the centre does, I was inspired. This was almost like a labourers’ ‘school’, away from work. Many of us have been privileged to be in a school that empowers us as individuals, whether it is through a verbal, or non-verbal form, such as quotes and board displays, and I wanted to bring this privilege to them too,” said Shastri, who has transformed the centre completely, whether it is the painting on the walls or the desks.

“Each trip I made to the centre warmed my heart. It was personally enriching to see how art could bring so much joy and wonder to other individuals; the process of explaining the meaning behind my work showed me how much of a difference such acts can make,” Shastri added.

The centre acknowledges her inputs. “Jaahnvi has done a wonderful job creating such beautiful cherry blossoms on the walls of our learning institutes. They are beautiful, encouraging and calming to look at for our students. She has created a motivating environment for our labourers and given them a space to relax and grow, just like the cherry blossoms,” said Shabnam Kassam, Director, Danube Welfare Centre.

When Shastri turned 17, she chose to mark her birthday with children from a slum in New Delhi, India, where she helped change the very look and feel of the school there. She also promoted cards made by the children and painted her very own Cherry Blossom Tree in one of the main vocational areas. “Celebrating my 17th birthday in the presence of these children made me feel loved and cherished, however, the true essence of the experience was felt when the children in the slum understood the pure meaning of the tree, each making a ‘pinkie promise’ with me to integrate the message within their lives,” she said.

Shastri’s mother Chetna Buxani Shastri said she is proud of her little girl’s efforts. “Jaahnvi’s message is that life is a gift, but short. So, just as the cherry blossom blooms for a short while but mesmerises everyone, seize every moment. Seek out and embrace opportunities. Blossom. Like she says, to truly live is to truly give.”

As Shastri, who has plans to expand her project in the UAE, embarks on her next round of painting at the Danube Welfare Centre on April 9, she said, “I would love for more individuals to get involved. I urge other teenagers, even adults, to come and join me. I hope to recreate this project at other educational centres in Dubai.”

Significance of the Cherry Blossom

“The deep meaning of the Cherry Blossom Tree teaches the Japanese nation that they are Sakura. We all are,” said Jaahnvi Shastri.

Cherry blossoms are symbolic flowers of the spring, a time of renewal, and signify the fleeting nature of life. Their beauty peaks for around two weeks in a year, after which the blossoms start to fall. But the idea is to make the most of this period, and focus on its positivity.